Republicans are counting on a strong economy and energized base to re-elect President Trump. Economists who study such things agree but the major polls and recent off-year elections in Virginia and Kentucky tell a different story.
The widely respected model built by Yale University forecaster Ray Fare predicts the Democrats will only garner 46 percent of the popular vote in a two-candidate race if GDP growth continues at about 2 percent. Similarly based on historical voting patterns, Oxford Economics gives the president a 5-point win.
Still, the major polls indicate the president is in trouble. The most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll has Mr. Trump 9 points behind former Vice President Joe Biden and trailing Sen. Elizabeth Warren by 8 points.
Recent New York Times Upshot and Siena College surveys indicate even if the economists are wrong and he loses the popular vote by a larger margin than in 2016, Mr. Trump could eke out an Electoral College win.
Mr. Trump is highly competitive in six key battle ground states — including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina. In those, he leads Ms. Warren by two points, trails Mr. Biden overall by two — but is within the margin of error. He must win Florida with its 29 electoral votes and two or three of the others if the rest of the country map goes the same as in 2016.
I would not take that bet — not even for “safe states” where the president prevailed by wide margins against Hillary Clinton.
These days, Americans are less focused on the big macroeconomic numbers — stronger wage growth and low unemployment — and more troubled by skyrocketing prescription drug and health insurance costs, roads and other transportation solutions, fortifying coastal cities against severe storms, college tuition and student loans, and the wage/opportunity gap for women.
Mr. Trump promised to fix these and other problems and simply has too little to show. His denials about climate change fly in the face of facts and reason as hurricanes become more intense and wildfires rage in California — PG&E’s transmission lines did not just become rickety.
Mostly moderate Democrats flipped 40 House seats in 2018 by focusing on practical solutions to many of these problems.
Mr. Biden’s low energy, poor organization and absence of new ideas would handicap him against Mr. Trump in the general election, but for similar reasons Ms. Warren is the likely Democratic nominee.
Republicans are banking that her heavy tax and regulatory approaches to reworking health care — including ending private insurance — would make her an easy target.
Three of the last four presidents tried to similarly reinvent health care and failed — Obamacare is proving to be just one big Band-Aid/expensive subsidy program as health care costs keep rocketing. Consequently, her radical platform on health care and other issues is signaling that she will take the abovementioned to-do list more seriously than Mr. Trump and could better get to some solutions with a Democratic Congress — even the Fare model has Republicans doing poorly in congressional races.
Democratic pundits that would like the senator to move to the middle overlook that the president is also running a radical campaign that does not require her to pivot.
In Kentucky, Gov. Matt Bevin ran exactly the kind of campaign Mr. Trump is running at his big rallies — appealing to white, noncollege-educated voters by banging hard on cultural issues, abortion, gun rights and political correctness.
That’s the mirror image of Hillary Clinton’s identity politics campaign — and by staying in safe zones like Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi he is similarly duplicating her 2016 mistake of ignoring the deplorables in the Rust Belt. This time he’s ignoring the young college-educated and women voters who increasingly are going Democratic.
He can’t take his road show credibly to suburban Northern Virginia or Richmond — or to the Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati and other major cities. Democrats in Virginia took control of the legislature and Andy Beshear scored well in his gubernatorial race in those Kentucky communities with a moderate, problem-solver campaign.
In 2020, voter turnout in most segments likely will be high — 72 percent of Americans in the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll rate themselves as highly interested in the election, which is extraordinary nearly one year from Election Day.
Mr. Trump’s staying where he feels safe with folks that adore him will hardly win four of the abovementioned swing states and might not even win in places like Kentucky.
• Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.
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